AN OCCASIONAL WRITER
I am curious about other authors’ writing spaces and habits the way some people are interested in celebrity homes. Some writers, like Hemingway and Dickens, wrote while standing; in contrast, Truman Capote wrote while lying on his couch. Mark Twain’s office was painted mauvish-pink and contained a pool table. Benjamin Franklin wrote in the morning, after waking up and stripping naked. I enjoy learning these tidbits and browsing through photos of writers’ offices, because I am being reminded of the behind-the-scenes work that happens before a book is finished, and the various routines and locations that support one’s writing life. I am also a bit envious of the writers, famous and not-so-famous, who allow themselves the time and space to write with regularity.
In my recent collection of personal essays, Motherlands, I write about my discomfort with calling myself a writer, because in many ways, I feel like an outsider to writing. I have a full-time job that doesn’t require literary skills, a busy family life and a great social circle. My approach to writing lacks the routine and the structure of many of my favorite writers: I don’t set aside a time to write. I don’t have a designated workspace in my house for writing—no pretty desk with a view; actually, no desk at all. I don’t belong to a writer’s group. I have never attended a writing workshop. I write in English, my second language. Perhaps not labeling myself a writer is a defense mechanism: I am free of all the pressure, expectations, anticipation, and disappointment that real writers seem to experience. It may be a way of creatively avoiding the responsibility of regular writing while claiming all the pleasure from it.
Desk or no desk, writing and publishing essays, poetry, and translations inevitably makes me a writer. I don’t have a writing schedule, but I do have a method; otherwise, nothing will ever be done. I am not a freewriting-type of person, though I swear I have tried to be. Once I get an idea for an essay, I let it live in my head for a while. I work on it in my mind as I am doing something else, like driving or taking a walk. Once I know what the opening paragraph or two will look like, I start writing. The act of writing typically generates more ideas, and I slowly but steadily unspool the essay. Since the piece lives in me for quite some time before it sees the light of day, my first draft is not that removed from my final draft. I let it sit for a few days, and I go back to it for revisions. I often ask a trusted friend (a “real” writer) to read it before I deem it finished and ready for submission.
Not being “only” a writer gives me a wider field of inspiration to draw from. As a Macedonian living in the US, an international student advisor, a mother to a bilingual child, a wife, a translator, a traveler, an avid reader, and an occasional and somewhat hesitant writer, I draw from a range of personal and professional experiences--which are often in conversation with one another—when I write personal essays like the ones in Motherlands. This collection in particular benefits from the weaving of the professional, personal and literary, because it tackles topics that are naturally multidisciplinary, such as cross-cultural living (cooking, gardening), language, identity, and education.
I have two writing projects percolating at the moment—an idea for a novel (part travelogue, part love story) and a poetry collection. I’ll let them live in my head for a bit longer, but eventually, I will have to sit down and start writing, perhaps at my own desk this time.
About MOTHERLANDS: In this collection of personal essays, Natasha Garrett explores various facets of the modern migration experience. Weaving academic and literary sources, as well as personal and professional experiences, Garrett uses transnationalism as a springboard for discussing topics such as home, motherhood, identity, bilingualism, family, education, and travel. The essays in Motherlands offer a well-researched, witty and heartfelt look into migration both as a global phenomenon and as a deeply intimate experience.
Buy MOTHERLANDS here: https://www.amazon.com/Motherlands-Natasha-Garrett/dp/1897493665
And if you're in Pittsburgh, you can come see Natasha speak at the Squirrel Hill Library next week: